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Ohio State's Cardale Jones is failing his NFL audition

Week 3 of the college football season saw the Buckeyes quarterback get benched for poor play. While Jones' draft stock plummets, it just continues to rise for stars of Ole Miss and Missouri.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones' audition for the 2016 NFL Draft is not going as planned. After winning the three games he started last season, including the national title, expectations for Jones were high this season.

He was picked as Ohio State's starter over redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, and played reasonably well in the season opener against Virginia Tech. Since then, Jones hasn't looked like the quarterback we expected and has struggled to get into rhythm completing passes. In three games, Jones has completed just 56.5 percent of his passes for 334 yards and only has two touchdowns compared to three interceptions. Although part of that is by design because he's run the ball 21 times, it's easy to see that Jones is struggling.

That was most apparently on Saturday in a narrow 20-13 home win against Northern Illinois. Jones played just three series, going 4 for 9 for 36 yards and two interceptions. Replaced by Barrett, Jones never got back into the game.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Jones is doing so poorly, but it seems like he'll try too hard to complete a challenging pass instead of being loose like he was completing deep passes last season. Take this pass, for instance:


Here, Jones has a clean pocket on a three-man rush, but decides to step up toward a defender. Locked onto his receiver without going through his progressions, Jones puts the ball in the air for 30 yards, only to have it sail over his teammate and into the hands of Northern Illinois cornerback Shawun Lurry.

Maybe Jones is looking over his shoulder to Barrett and trying too hard to impress. Regardless, Jones got pulled from the game two series after this play and now OSU head coach Urban Meyer has a quarterback problem.

"Because of all the intrigue," Meyer said on Monday, "you'll hear someone say, 'How can you play quarterback with someone looking over your shoulder?’ And my comment is, ‘How do you not?’ If you think you're going to play at the next level, there is going to be probably a player better than you standing right next to you, so get used to it. If you have a bad day, you get replaced."

If Jones stays on the bench, his NFL hopes are doomed. Even if he gets the starting job and plays well, there's enough doubt and bad tape for NFL teams to be wary of using a high draft pick on him. For now, Jones looks like a project pick with tools. It's up to him to prove otherwise.

SB Nation presents: Ole Miss' win and Ohio State's struggle highlight Week 3

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On the other side of the ball, Ohio State's defense is packed with NFL players at every level, but arguably no player has looked better than defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. The senior may never be rated higher than teammates like end Joey Bosa or linebackers Darron Lee and Josh Perry, but Washington was disruptive again on Saturday.

Washington is playing more three-technique for the Buckeyes this season, and the move is paying off. He had five tackles and a sack that came while the Huskies were driving in the fourth quarter.

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Watching the Missouri/Connecticut 9-6 snorefest was a chore on Saturday, but at least there was Tigers linebacker Kentrell Brothers. The Missouri senior was all over the field, registering 10 tackles and a pass breakup. Brothers is a read-and-react linebacker with the type of athleticism to chase down the ball carrier. As long as he tests well at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, he could be a top 100 choice.

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It's astounding that an Alabama offense that struggles to find an identity passing the ball doesn't utilize tight end O.J. Howard more. Against Ole Miss, Howard had just four catches but 70 yards. His production should have been at least doubled, but he didn't see enough targets.

There isn't a lot of flash to Howard, but he's dependable and uses his size to handle contested catches. In what looks like a weak tight end class in the 2016 draft, Howard might be the best of the group. But we'll only really know for sure if he is given more of an opportunity.

It's far too early to rank Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly or really get that excited about him. He's played just three games for the Rebels after transferring from a junior college and getting kicked out of Clemson. But through three games, it's easy to see glimpses of Kelly's skills. He's got a big arm, good athleticism, a nice release and solid size. Kelly needs to keep getting reps. He'll get plenty of good ones with a good Ole Miss receiving group headlined by junior Laquon Treadwell.

From a playing style perspective, Treadwell is similar to Dez Bryant. He might not be as dynamic of an athlete, but he's physical at the catch point. He pulled in five catches for 80 yards against Alabama, and showed that he's hard to press and will go up and get the ball.

Rebels defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche can probably be featured here every week. He's a legitimate top-five pick if he comes out after this season. Since he'll be heavily covered over the next couple months, just watch this in amazement while reminding yourself he is 296 pounds:


Obviously the draft stock on Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson is way down now that head coach Gus Malazahn has announced that he's being replaced by Sean White as the team's starter. Johnson's start the season -- he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns -- has not gone as anticipated. But maybe that's the problem.

Maybe we -- the collective draft hive mind -- shouldn't have really anticipated anything with Johnson. Before this season, he had less than 1,000 yards passing in his career. But he's a big, athletic, inexperienced SEC quarterback so of course he's the next Cam Newton. Maybe Johnson will bounce back. Who knows? But considering what has happened with Johnson and Jones, at some point it might be time to step back and rethink about the expectations placed on inexperienced players.